#PathMatch21, the hashtag that has MS4s on a rollercoaster of emotions. This year’s Match was unique in that COVID-19 caused everything to be virtual. But if there’s one thing you can’t stop it’s a med student on a mission to pathology! So, what was PathMatch21 like? We didn’t want to speculate on real-world experiences so we went to the experts - the MS4s participating in PathMatch21 to find out what it’s really like participating in Match.
Challenges and Opportunities of PathMatch21
“One of the most difficult aspects of this year's Match process was the pandemic, of course,” stated Amber Berumen (@AmberMBerumen), MS4 from McGovern Medical School. “COVID-19 has been this invisible force that we have all been combating this year, even if we were lucky enough to prevent contracting it.” Like the majority of Match applicants, her interviews were completely virtual. “There were definitely advantages to virtual interviews and I think that once the pandemic ends, Zoom interviews should still be utilized in some circumstances. Of course, the main advantage of virtual interviews is decreasing the overall financial burden on students. However, when making a life choice of this magnitude, it is such a detriment to not have the opportunity to see the city, to meet the faculty and residents, and to visit the hospital. But such is the price you pay when you get to do your interviews in sweatpants.”
Sanyk Mcculler (@forenzimed), MS4 at Meharry Medical College, believes virtual interviews can be effective and convenient as well as more cost-efficient for medical students. “All of my interviews were virtual, but I felt connected to the programs that made the experience lively and put extra effort in communicating before and after interviews with packages, pre-interview socials, or open houses.”
The Rank List
Callie Torres (@Callie_Tor), MS, 2LT USAF and MS4 at Kansas City University-Joplin said, “Making a rank list this year without visiting programs was definitely a challenge. I had certain aspects that I was looking for in every program and made sure to ask during the interview if the information was not available online. This included things like pay, research opportunities, mentoring, PAs or grossing techs, fellowship opportunities, education funds, didactics, living costs, etc. Beyond these hard and fast details, I also made my rank list based on my interview experience. Even via Zoom I felt I was mostly able to get a ‘feel’ for the environment of the program and trusted my gut instinct when it came to ranking programs. What stood out to me the most about my top ranked programs was the environment of training. I wanted to be in a program where there is an emphasis on education and the residents, fellows and attendings interact and work together well.”
“I thought the hard part of the match process would be trekking through interviews but creating my rank list was definitely the most challenging part,” said Keenen Smith (@kdsmithmed), MS4 at Medical University of South Carolina. “I felt like I had some really great interviews with awesome people at amazing programs so it made it difficult to know exactly which program I liked the most. Ultimately, it came down to the location of the program, the curriculum/experiences, the people (residents, attendings, coordinators) I interacted with and the overall vibe I got from the program during my interview. It was difficult to distinguish between the top 3 programs on my rank list, and I could only have one #1 so I chose the one I felt was the best fit for me personally.”
Sanyk Mcculler formed her rank list with location being within her top 5 criteria. “With the exception of one program, my top 3 were all relatively close to home. I also took into consideration career development, mentorship, grossing time, sign out schedule, resident benefits and gut feeling. Also, although I am open to all aspects of Pathology, I have an acute interest in Forensics, but I wanted to have strong CP training to have a well-balanced education. My #1 program encompassed all these aspects and more. It was close to home in a nice and familiar city. They are a large program, so it had diverse specimens, opportunities in research, and fellowships in competitive sub-specialties. The spirit of the program was friendly, educational and allowed me to have time to have a social life. This was also the program I did my only Away rotation at, so I felt confident about it being a nonmalignant program.”
Allison Martin (@AllisonHHMartin), MS4 at Chicago Medical School, said, “For me, the most important factor in making my rank list was fit. The questions I asked at all my interviews were ‘Why did you come to this institution?’ and ‘Why do you stay?’ I was fortunate in my interviews that all of the answers were unanimously along the lines of ‘for the opportunities’ and ‘for the people.’ Pathology really is a field full of great people. If any place had answered differently though, I would not have ranked them, even though my rank order list was shorter than I would have liked already. As for my number one, it was a tough decision, but I ended up choosing the place where I had seen them be completely, enthusiastically kind to everyone they encountered. They were actively considerate, and that counted more to me than anything else.”
Levi Endelman (@Levi_Endelman), MS4 from University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, told us, “I never would have expected social media to be such an effective professional networking and learning tool throughout interview season and now into the Match, but the presence and scope of #PathTwitter has grown rapidly just in the short time I’ve been a part of it. I’ve been able to connect and stay in contact with residents from various programs while at the same time engaging with some of these programs in formats such as weekly unknown cases. I was also able to connect with many of my fellow pathology applicants!”
Amber Berumen agreed. “I feel like it is really hard to talk about PathMatch without talking about Twitter and the community that pathologists have built on there. I do believe #PathTwitter is the best subsection of #MedTwitter for many reasons. #PathTwitter provided me and so many other students with an abundance of mentors, all from different subspecialties, different institutions, levels of experience, etc. I actually remember at one point demonstrating interest in pediatric pathology and having a swarth of pediatric pathologists come to me through Twitter, advocating for their field and telling me what they found enjoyable. The PathTwitter community made me feel assured that I was making the right decision, that these were really 'my people.' PathMatch would have been a much more difficult experience if I had not been part of this group.”
Advice for PathMatch22
Callie Torres said, “First, try your best to not compare yourself to other applicants/interviewees. Everyone’s background and story is different, and it is easy to feel intimidated when hearing other applicants discuss their achievements. I tried to focus on how great it would be to have these stellar individuals as my future colleagues, not as my competition. Second, remember that during an interview you should also be interviewing the program. Come prepared with questions and take notes throughout the day. Pay attention to the way the interviewers, coordinators and residents interact; it can say a lot about a program. Lastly, take the time to congratulate yourself for coming this far. Medicine is not an easy path and you have already done wonderful things and should feel proud of what you have already accomplished!”
Allison Martin said “Join #PathTwitter now! You find support, encouragement, teaching, and networking there that will help immeasurably. It can help you get aways/auditions, and it can help you get a sense of the different institutions before you interview. Whether your interviews are virtual or in person, do not be afraid to ask the questions that are meaningful to you, not just what you think is acceptable/expected to ask. And if they haven’t obviously read your application and aren’t excited to be interviewing you, then it’s probably not the best place for you. Pay attention to your vibes - rank based on where you vibe with the people best, and factor in details of salary/perks/hours/location/etc. only as needed for your particular situation.”
“Find good mentors!” advised Sanyk Mcculler. “They truly made a difference in guiding me towards strong programs, advising me on green flags and red flags. Also, I would recommend doing Pathology rotations at the schools you were interested in attending. I think that seeing how a Pathology program runs makes a large difference in how comfortable you will feel working there for the next 4 years. I also think leaving a strong, good impression helps you get your foot in the door. Aim for what fits your life goals and stick with your gut during the ranking process! Things will work out!”
With all the celebration this past week, we knew there were still some tough questions to ask, namely, “What if I didn’t match at all?” This is the reality for some applicants. But not to worry because Dr. Donald Karcher (@DonKarcherMD), Professor and Immediate Past Chair of Pathology at George Washington University Medical Center, has some great advice. We also asked him a few questions that new residents may find helpful.
Q. What if I didn't match at all?
A. “If you didn’t match and didn’t get into a program during the SOAP process, don’t give up hope! You can still get into a pathology residency program in the future, but it will take some extra effort. If you haven’t already done so, try to do some work, either clinical or research-related, in a pathology department. Show the pathologists in that department that you’re serious about becoming a pathologist and willing to work hard and they will almost certainly give you a strong letter of recommendation. Also, if possible try to publish an abstract and/or paper based on your work in that department. This will be a good sign to residency programs that you’re committed to pathology training and a productive worker.”
Q. What if I didn't match at my top ranked school?
A. “This is definitely not a problem; you matched in pathology and that’s the first step to a great career. Most programs provide excellent training for their residents. And it’s not necessarily the program that makes a great pathologist; it’s the resident and their willingness to work hard and learn. If you feel that you need exposure to things not covered in your program, you can try to do an elective or two in programs that offer what you may be missing. In the end, you should do very well regardless of the program in which you matched.”
Q. How do I handle the new stressor of moving to my residency institution?
A. “Yes, moving to a new institution and location can be stressful. But it can also be exciting. I recommend getting past the stress and embracing the excitement! Your new program will usually provide you with much information and guidance regarding where to live, how to commute, and how to get engaged in the new community. Often, the more senior residents in the program will be the most helpful with these things.”
Q. What should new residents expect in their first week or so of residency?
A. “The first week or so can be hectic and sometimes feel overwhelming. But don’t panic! Your new institution and program will provide you with a thorough orientation. After the general orientation, most programs will then give the new residents a “boot camp” experience, with presentations and demonstrations about basic procedures, such as grossing and doing frozen sections, and will cover basic clinical scenarios, such as blood bank and transfusion requests, and how to handle them.”
Q. What are good actions to take while waiting for residency to begin?
A. “First, if possible try to do an elective or two in your medical school that will come in handy during pathology residency. Some of the most helpful would be hematology-oncology, general surgery or a surgical subspecialty, or gyn oncology. If your school offers it, definitely do a pathology “boot camp” elective designed for senior students going into pathology. Definitely review normal histology; you can’t identify abnormal unless you know normal histology! If you didn’t use a real microscope during college or medical school (many students these days don’t), go to your school’s pathology department and ask if you can look at a few slides using a real microscope. The pathologists there will almost certainly be very happy to show you the fine art of properly using a microscope. Finally, try to relax and get prepared for an amazing experience as a pathology resident!”
We’d like to thank these soon-to-be doctors for sharing their Match experiences. Be sure to check out their Twitter handles to see where they each matched! And thank you to Dr. Karcher for providing support to PathMatch21 applicants through his encouraging words. We hope these experiences will help future applicants by providing them with an inside look into the Match process. These words also serve as great feedback for residency programs looking to hear real-world experiences to help guide their Match activities in the future.